How to Defy Rape Culture

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault team members include (l–r) Rachel Martin Asproth, Hunter Beckstrom, executive director Artika Roller, and Pogi del Rosario. Photo Sarah Whiting

Hunter Beckstrom and Pogi del Rosario are prevention program coordinators for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). They work with advocacy organizations and rape crisis centers around the state to provide services to survivors as well as to offer strategies to reduce rape culture.

Beckstrom engaged in the work after taking gender and women’s studies courses as an undergraduate student in Winona. A professor asked who walks home at night with keys in their hands, or looks into the backseat of their car, to be sure they are safe. “Most of the women raised their hands. None of the men did,” he says. “I started to become aware of how oppression was influencing everyday experiences.”

For six years, Pogi del Rosario was an actor in presentations about rape culture, consent, and bystander intervention as part of an improvisational group that used a humor-based approach. “It was rooted in the theory that humor helps people begin to discuss taboo topics. After the performance, we had 40-minute facilitated conversations with the audience.”

Minnesota Women’s Press asked Beckstrom and del Rosario to talk about the work they do.

Pogi del Rosario: My parents are from the Philippines. It is a Spanish-colonized culture. There’s a lot of “machismo,” which tends to rigidly emphasize traditional roles. I had to chaperone my sister on dates, even though I was younger. As a kid who took electronics apart to see how they worked, I was a questioner. My sister was hurt by gender roles, and I wondered why the cultural standards existed.

Hunter Beckstrom: I grew up in a small rural town in southern Minnesota. My parents were divorced and I was largely raised by my grandmother. I had a lot of powerful women in my life. At the same time, most of the people in my family held traditional gender roles. It took a while for me to truly become aware of my privilege.

PDR: We get messages from society that men are meant to take up space, to make ourselves bigger, to own the room. That creates a sense of entitlement, throughout many cultures, that has led us to where we are. But in the last several years, we can start to see change around masculinity. Men need to continue to examine ourselves and our behavior, and have the strength to admit we are complicit in our patriarchal sense of entitlement.

HB: When we think a man should be dominant and aggressive, be a leader, and be physically strong, that is not inherently bad — unless we think that is the only thing masculinity entails.

As a society, we do not do a good job discussing consent with people when they are young. Harmful examples in popular culture — recently including Tucker Carlson and Andrew Tate — instill a sense of extremism that upholds white supremacy and male entitlement.

Despite this, I am optimistic about where we are headed, because I think we are seeing a wider spectrum of masculinity. That is incredibly healthy.

PDR: In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of people feeding anger, but we haven’t been asking enough about what is behind it. I think it is a lot of fragility and insecurity. It is your classic bully story — the bully is typically the most insecure person.

Pogi del Rosario. Photo Sarah Whiting

There are things that are not being dealt with, that people aren’t addressing for themselves, and those things feed into gender-based violence. Social media gives people a space to congregate — you can literally find anyone to agree with you. That can be a dangerous thing.

When I worked with military populations, we were at an Air Force base in Korea. Some of the airmen we were working with showed us their word of the day on a blackboard: “consent.” Even if they were making fun of it, or saying it was corny, they were still processing it.

HB: Sexual assault is about the control and sexual conquest of another person’s body. David Lisak is a researcher at Middlebury College in Massachusetts. He wrote a paper titled “Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence,” which explains that the power rapist is motivated by his need to control and dominate his victim, and the anger rapist is motivated by resentment and hostility towards women.

He indicates that sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect are prevalent in the backgrounds of rapists.

Lisak explains that, although rapists are commonly prosecuted for a single count, the average rapist sexually assaults at least seven people. This behavior tends to begin in adolescence, and often spans decades.

A small percentage of men are getting away with this violence and harm — repeating it over and over again.

PDR: Part of the training I led for members of the military was about hazing. Often the people who were hazed become the people who haze the next group. It is bad behavior that gets normalized. Normalizing is about doing things “the way we’ve always done.”

HB: Historically, rape prevention programming is about teaching a few steps of bystander intervention that makes you ready to keep other people safe. But often we don’t teach the nuance and difficulty of being in those real-life situations.

Education at a young age should be about instilling values that are grounded in respect for others. We also need to understand what are they experiencing in the broader world that is not aligned with those values.

Hunter Beckstrom. Photo Sarah Whiting

We know some abusers have experienced violence. To heal, we need to take the approach of asking not “What’s wrong with you?” but “What happened to you?”

This is why we need to develop community-wide approaches to get underneath gender-based violence— not simply rely on advocacy and social services to do the work later. Sometimes we tell sexist jokes, use disrespectful language, pressure people to do something they don’t want to do, or are part of a cancel culture that defines people by the worst things they have done.

Our patriarchal criminal legal system is rooted in punitive measures and oppression. In order to prevent sexual violence, we need to advocate against racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and all ways we treat people as inferior.